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Is She Still 'Seaworthy'?: A Mariner's Misadventures

Jun 4, 2010

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Ten years after retiring from long-line offshore fishing for a life of lobster-trapping and writing on Isle au Haut off the coast of Maine, Linda Greenlaw succumbed to "a deep yearning to go out of [her] comfort zone one more time" and find out whether, at 47, she was still seaworthy. The woman hailed by Sebastian Junger in The Perfect Storm as "one of the best swordboat captains, period, on the East Coast," signed on to pilot the 63-foot Seahawk on two swordfishing expeditions that would span 60 days and take her some 1,000 miles from home, to the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. What she hadn't signed on for was landing (briefly) in a Canadian jail, or losing money on her venture.

Like The Hungry Ocean, Greenlaw's best-selling 1999 account of captaining the Hannah Boden, Seaworthy charts this trip from hiring crew to selling their catch, with a lively narrative mix of adventure, colorful character portraits and calamity. But the story she tells of perseverance over hardship this time around is quite different. Instead of a triumphant, safe return with a record catch, this excursion, while not ending tragically, does not end entirely happily, either.

Greenlaw notes repeatedly that she has changed, both physically and mentally, in the 10 years since she last fished blue water: "I had always hired from the neck down. But at the age of 47, I realized that I had changed and that perhaps my criteria for crew needed to change." Her four-man crew is more mature and stable than in the past, and she, too, is less volatile. She writes, "I had definitely developed a more thorough thought process in the last ten years, I realized. I was actually being considerate."

Another difference is that whereas the Hannah Boden was a sleek 100-foot vessel outfitted with state-of-the-art equipment, the Seahawk is a 63-foot hunk of rust and outdated, malfunctioning electronics. In her eagerness to fish again, Greenlaw overlooks some minimum standards — and pays for her oversights: After just 48 hours at sea, she suffers the humiliation of requiring a tow back to Nova Scotia for engine repair. In the end, the boat seems held together by bungee cords and epoxy.

Greenlaw knows how to spin a good yarn out of nightmarish setbacks, including her arrest by the Canadian coast guard after the Seahawk drifts into Canadian waters. She comments, "My detractors accuse me of intentionally crossing the line for publicity or for a book opportunity, to which I say bullshit — not my style. It happened. I have now written about it. So call me a pragmatist. But don't call me an opportunist."

While The Hungry Ocean offers a clearer picture of the nuts, bolts and economics of commercial fishing (and is less riddled with cliches), Seaworthy is a more reflective book, pondering not just the vagaries of nature but the nature of success and self-definition. Greenlaw's voyage of discovery culminates in several instructive moments, including her realization that "the standard by which I measured my own worthiness" had indeed grown beyond mere "seaworthiness."

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